You might be wondering why I’m celebrating International Workers’ Day on a blog related to food. The answer is simple: Unless we are self-sufficient and produce our own food, we rely on hundreds, if not thousands of workers around the world to do it for us.
In Medieval Europe, the first day in May was celebrated as a general holiday to herald the coming of Spring in the Northern Hemisphere. During the 1880s workers used the existing holiday as a day to celebrate workers’ solidarity. In 1890, Workers’ Day was recognised internationally for the first time.
Workers’ Day reminds us that all people who work deserve a fair wage and decent working conditions. It also reminds us of the importance of establishing justice and a sense of responsibility and caring in the workplace.
Well today in Malta it’s a beautiful spring day and I wanted to take the opportunity to link this special celebration day with our food choices… especially as they apply to our islands.
Do you ever consider where your food is produced and by whom?
A basic rule is to, as much as possible, opt for local food to sustain local farmers, producers and workers.
Where feasible buy directly from farms, wayside vendors, Farmers’ markets. Read the labels on the fruit and vegetable produce crates or price tags to check the origin; or ask the vendor.
Make the effort to learn which foods other than fruits and vegetables are produced locally. Apart from the staple fresh products such as bread, dairy, cold cuts and pastries, check out frozen, canned and dried packaged foods as well. Tomato, vegetable and fruit products, as well as frozen pizzas, pies and pasta dishes are some things which come to mind.
And do not forget the myriad of tea-time pastries and preserves. The market is being flooded with imported cakes, muffins and cookies; yet we can boast a vast array of traditional tea-time sweets which are still being produced by local bakeries. These are available directly from the bakeries (where there’s nothing which beats the aroma of these freshly baked products – particularly qagħaq tal- ħmira [sweet dough rings], my downfall), from corner shops, supermarkets, mobile vendors, open-markets and now even the soon-to-open new Artisan Market in Vittoriosa.
This Artisan Market also selling food is a fairly new concept for Malta and will offer the opportunity for local producers to market their organic or ‘aiming to be organic’ fruit, vegetables, juices, cheese, herbs, breads, eggs, preserves, wines and honey….and for us consumers to buy them. Whilst it enriches our taste palate and cultural appreciation to consume foods from around the world, acknowledging and more frequently opting for the products of local workers is a sustainable action to consider.
Of course, buying only locally produced food is something which most of us Maltese cannot envisage and practically adhere to. So when it comes to choosing imported foods what can we keep in mind? In keeping with the Workers’ Day theme, I wanted to emphasise Fairtrade products.
Buying Fairtrade foods means that you are buying foods which have been produced in a way which respects the farmers’ and workers’ rights to a fair price, good working conditions and a healthy and thriving living community.
The basic standards for a product to be certified Fairtrade are spelt out in the Fairtrade Foundation’s website as follows:
– Ensure a guaranteed Fairtrade minimum price, which is agreed with producers
– Provide an additional Fairtrade premium, which can be invested in projects that enhance social, economic and environmental development
– Enable pre-financing for producers who require it
– Emphasize the idea of partnership between trade partners
– Facilitate mutually beneficial long-term trading relationships
– Set clear minimum and progressive criteria to ensure that the conditions for the production and trade of a product are socially and economically fair and environmentally responsible.
The availability of Fairtrade food products is still limited in Malta. Here I mean both physical and economic availability. A few of the larger supermarkets and one local Fairtrade speciality shop in Valletta (http://www.l-arka.org/) will stock items such as coffee, tea, juices, wine, beer, chocolate, pasta, rice, barley, couscous, biscuits, muesli, preserves, spreads, sweets, packet snacks, sugar and spices. (Actually whilst I’m writing I’m thinking this is quite a good range of products.) The reality is that these retail outlets are not convenient for all and, perhaps, what is more restrictive is that in many cases the prices may be quite high compared to non-Fair trade products. Still, whilst you might not include such products on your weekly food shopping list, it is worth considering buying some of the more longer-lasting items. Additionally, these products will surely make a meaningful birthday, Christmas, Father or Mother’s Day gift for anyone who believes in the principles of Fairtrade, sustainability and workers’ rights.
So today, as you are drinking your coffee or juice, or nibbling on a biscuit, give a thought to all those workers who have helped to bring that product to your table. Consider how you can contribute more to their wellbeing and to sustainable development. Start consuming more local and more Fairtrade products, and encourage others to do the same. In Margaret Mead’s words “Never doubt the ability of a small group of committed people to change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
(For more on Fairtrade you can also visit the DOLCETA Consumer Education website – www.dolceta.eu. Click on Sustainable Consumption and search for ‘fair trade’.)